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By Terry Dean
EDITOR'S NOTE: If Dist. 97's April 5 referendum fails, officials say drastic cuts will have to be made to fill its budget deficit. In the upcoming weeks leading up to the vote, Wednesday Journal will look at some of the programs on the reduction list. In this issue, BRAVO and CAST.
Bill McGlynn has created a lot of memories through Oak Park District 97's CAST performing arts program.
He's been director of the Julian Middle School program since 1997 but was also a student performer when he was kid growing up in Oak Park.
It was in the 1985-1986 school year when McGlynn was a student at Hawthorne School — now Julian, 416 S. Ridgeland — and participated in a class play. CAST, as a full-fledged district program, didn't exist yet. Some parents and teachers helped put on the play. The two parents ended up founding what would become CAST, which is celebrating its 25th year in the district this year. BRAVO at Brooks Middle School, 325 S. Kenilworth, was created in 1995 at then-Emerson School.
Both programs have grown to involve more than 200 kids as stage performers, set designers and stage hands, among other activities at each school, putting on productions throughout the school year. The program also invites professionals to instruct and even perform in stage productions.
With a degree in middle school education and theater arts, McGlynn said it was his involvement onstage that sparked his interest in performing arts, becoming an actor and writer before moving into education.
CAST and BRAVO are being celebrated in the district by those with and without kids in the schools. So many were undoubtedly concerned when both programs appeared on the list of reductions the board of education approved last week for elimination in case voters reject the April 5 referendum.
McGlynn shares the view held by others about these various programs — that all are important to the district. But McGlynn and supporters of CAST and BRAVO insist that both programs are central to the overall curriculum, not just performing arts add-ons. That was the intention as both programs grew over the years, he recalled. When he returned to Oak Park to take over as program director in '97, CAST was fully entrenched in the curriculum and has remained so.
He and other CAST staff regularly meet with core subject teachers. Though some productions are planned well in advance, some plays come out of those teacher discussions. McGlynn recalled a discussion about the Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun that students were reading in class. CAST ended up performing
the play. The classroom impact also extends to such courses as math and science.
The set designers, McGlynn explained, often use what they learned in math class to figure out dimensions in set pieces.
"These connections are made across the curriculum," he said. "That's really part of the middle-school approach in Oak Park. The integration of the arts, sciences and languages is key. It requires a strong relationship between teachers and co-curriculars."
District administration has tentatively talked about how each program can survive, perhaps with volunteers. Officials, though, have admitted it wouldn't be the exact same programs.
McGlynn and other art program supporters argue that the programs are self-sustaining. The district provides some funds for support staff but the shows themselves, along with parent-led fundraisers, pay for the program. Both have parent advisory boards — the CAST Council at Julian and Parent Advisory Board at Brooks.
Parents from both schools spoke on behalf of their programs at the Jan. 11 Dist. 97 school board meeting. The board at that meeting approved the $5.7 million in cuts. They echoed many of the points McGlynn made in speaking with Wednesday Journal late last week.
"It would be a tremendous loss," he said.
As for outsourcing for volunteers, McGlynn doubts how successful that would be. Though McGlynn didn't want to speak for that BRAVO, he believes that to maintain both programs, some kind of corporate sponsor might be needed. Parents could be asked to try and raise money to pay for a director or permanent staff person, but McGlynn said that's really outside the bounds of the middle schools. Shifting expenses to other taxing bodies might also be problematic, given the financial strain on those budgets, he added.
Then there are the summer camps that both programs run and what would happen to those?
McGlynn said he's not thinking about what will happen if the referendum fails — he'll deal with whatever happens at that time. Instead, he and other supporters will work to make sure it does pass. That, he insisted, will involve convincing other voters to support it.
"It feels like a duty of ours to keep it," he said. "Our intention is to use our energy to make the argument that we need to keep it here, and not thinking about anything else."
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